Covering The First Few Days of a Transportation Accident
The following provides a brief overview to assist you in covering the first few days of a National Transportation Safety Board accident investigation. Please refer to the About the NTSB page of our web site for information on the history of the agency and the investigative process.
The Safety Board's Office of Media Relations may be reached at (202) 314-6100.
Under federal law, the National Transportation Safety Board is responsible for investigating and determining the probable cause of every civil aviation accident in the United States (and certain public use aircraft, such as those owned by state and municipal governments).
The Board also investigates accidents in the other modes of transportation - rail, highway, marine and pipeline.
The NTSB is an independent federal agency and is not affiliated with the U.S. Department of Transportation or any of its modal agencies, such as the Federal Aviation Administration.
The Office of Safety Recommendations and Communications ensures NTSB's vision and actions are accurately and effectively communicated to congressional stakeholders, victims of transportation accidents and their families, State and local government, the press, and the public. It manages the information flow and coordination with outside individuals and organizations regarding on-going activities and issues concerning the NTSB. The Office provides leadership in how the agency responds and coordinates with Congress, the press, and the public to ensure consistency and accuracy of the strategic positions and issues of the NTSB.
Getting Information at an Accident Scene
- The NTSB will not announce the cause of an accident while on scene. Indeed, the cause may not be determined for 12 to 18 months after the accident.
- The NTSB will not release the identities of victims or survivors of accidents. Such information will be released by the transportation company involved or from local medical facilities.
At a accident, the NTSB will send several public affairs officers (PAOs) to accompany the Go-Team and facilitate information dissemination. Often, one of the five Presidentially-appointed Board Members will accompany the team and serve as principal spokesperson. The Go-Team is led by a senior career investigator designated as Investigator-in-Charge (IIC).
While the Board's investigative team includes representatives from other agencies and organizations, only the Safety Board may release factual information on the investigation. Representatives of other organizations participating in our investigation risk removal and exclusion from the process if they release investigative information without NTSB permission.
The NTSB will establish a command post near the crash site, usually in a hotel. On-site public affairs operations will be organized from the Command Post. Local phone numbers for public affairs will be announced when they have been established.
Although not possible in every circumstance, the Safety Board strives to conduct two press conferences a day when on scene, one at mid- to late-afternoon and the other in the evening following the progress meeting held by the investigative team. The Board's spokespersons discuss factual, documented information. They do not analyze that information, nor speculate as to the significance of any particular piece of information.
If conditions permit, Safety Board PAOs will attempt to gain admittance for the news media, either in total or in a pool arrangement, to the accident scene itself, keeping in mind limitations posed by physical and biomedical hazards.
The Board will maintain a public affairs presence on scene for as long as circumstances warrant, usually 3 to 7 days.
After that, information will be released from the Public Affairs Office in Washington, D.C., (202) 314-6100.
Regional Accidents Investigations
The vast ity of the approximately 2,000 NTSB accident investigations every year are conducted by the Board's regional offices. Information is released to the news media on scene by the Safety Board's regional Investigator-in-Charge. He or she will designate a time during the day, usually late afternoon, to meet with and brief the media.
Once the on-scene investigation is completed, the regional investigator will remain the primary point of contact for reporters until the factual report is submitted to Washington. The factual report will appear on this web site and contain a narrative of factual information documented during the investigation; it will not contain a finding of cause. After the factual has been submitted by the regional office, reporters should contact the Public Affairs Office in Washington, D.C. for future updates on the investigation.
Information Available Away From the Scene
There is a lot of information available to you on the NTSB web site, including:
In addition, pertinent data and recommendation information that pre-dates information on our website may be obtained through the Media Relations Office in Washington.
In aviation accidents, the Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR) and Flight Data Recorder (FDR) - colloquially referred to as "black boxes" - are transported to the Board's headquarters building for read out. Photo opportunities of those recorders are sometimes arranged by the Public Affairs Office in Washington, but any factual information relating to those recorders usually will be released by the investigative team at the accident site.
These recorders - and the transcript of the CVR the Board ultimately provides - should not be confused with air traffic control communications. The NTSB is given a copy of the recorded audio communications between the flight crew and air traffic controllers for its investigation. Once the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has provided a complete written transcript of those communications, as determined by the Board's Investigator-in-Charge, the NTSB will return the tape to the FAA. After the tape has been returned, the FAA will release the audio air traffic control communications and transcript to the public. This usually occurs weeks after the accident.
Data recorders can also be found in other modes of transportation, particularly rail. Information from those recorders will be released through normal NTSB procedures.
A Word About Families
Since 1996, the NTSB has been charged by law with coordinating the resources of the federal government to support the airlines and local and state authorities in meeting the needs of aviation disaster victims and their families. In July 2002 the Office of Transportation Disaster Assistance extended these services for other commercial modes of transportation as well.
The Safety Board makes every effort to protect the privacy of the family members. Access to the hotel where the Board's Family Assistance Center is housed is strictly limited. The Safety Board will, usually within the first 24 hours of establishing the assistance center, hold a press briefing with other organizations assisting the Board to describe the family program and the assistance being provided to the families.
In addition, PAOs are assigned to the Family Assistance Center to answer news media inquiries by phone.
Memorial services held near the scene of the accident and crash site visits for family members are private. However, a media pool may be established to provide coverage. Details will be announced by PAOs stationed at the Family Assistance Center.
After the On-Scene Investigation
Even after the team has left the accident scene, the fact-gathering phase of the investigation continues. During this phase, a public hearing may be held by the Board. Factual reports will then be issued, which become the basis for the analysis to come.
The final report of accident investigations, containing the Board's decision as to the probable cause and the reasons for the Board's conclusions, is adopted by the five-Member Safety Board in a public meeting held in Washington. Safety recommendations may be issued at any time during an investigation, or accompany the final report.